Black Lives Matter. Culture READ

Being Black and Pregnant

In her first piece for The Sistem, Yasmin spoke about the BAME health workers who have shaped the NHS, now she follows up with a topic that is so sensitive: the risks of being black and pregnant.

During this current pandemic there was a lot for people to be afraid of. Not only did people have to worry about contracting COVID. There was worry on financial income, but most importantly for expectant mothers there was an either bigger fear. What I didn’t know was even without a global pandemic, Black expectant mothers are a lot more high risk than our white counterparts.

Unbeknownst to me, African and Afro-Caribbean mums have the highest Neonatal Morality rates since 2015 and has since dramatically risen. Despite death during pregnancy and childbirth becoming more and more rare with the advances we’ve made in modern medicine, Black women are still significantly more at risk.
The probability of death is 1 in 2,500 for Black women according to the UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths.

But Why?

It is a fact that black pregnant women are more at risk than their white counterparts

Black Women in the US specifically, have pregnancy-related deaths that are three to four times higher than white women. It’s a troubling and even baffling phenomena, but for Black women it is our harsh reality.

Dr Ria Clarke, a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology, suggests “If we’re serious about exploring why Black women are dying, we have to be willing to consider that black women experience racial bias, and that this may be reflected in the mortality figures.”

In my conversations with Black women who have experienced this, they have all described feeling racial bias. Each person expressed the fact that during their labour they did not feel heard. One was even told to “quiet down and sit still” whilst a nurse repeatedly poked her incorrectly to put her IV in.

In an interview with British Vogue, Queen & Slim Actress Jodie Turner-Smith revealed she opted to have a home birth to avoid racial discrimination in hospitals. She said “Delivering at home ensured that I had what every woman deserves, full agency in determining my birth support.”   

A senior midwife told the Independent, “Black women are categorised according to a white perspective; they are not believed, this notion of them having a higher threshold for pain and these biases mean that we miss serious conditions or the opportunity to deescalate serious changes in the woman’s condition in a timely way.”

As ridiculous as it sounds, some people in the medical field still believe Black patients feel less pain than whites. In a survey of 222 white medical students and residents, about half endorsed false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites.

This racist perspective (amongst others) of Black women, stems back to slavery.

Actor Jodie Turner- Smith opted to give birth at home earlier this year

Between 1840s and 1860s, physicians and slave owners would become the principal beneficiaries of the experimentation of Black women’s bodies. This left harrowing consequences and has stigmatised black women’s health and medical experience within present-day.

According to a BBC article, reasons behind the UK’s higher Black maternal death rate are being investigated by the NHS. They aim to up their game with checking on expectant mothers to ensure their health as well as their babies are safe.

They said “By 2024, 75% of women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities will receive continuity of care from their midwife throughout pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period.”

In my opinion, four years seems like a long time to try and tackle this issue, when it’s affecting so many Black women already.

Topics such as this need to be discussed and acknowledged more within the medical field to ensure that our current and future Black mothers are able to give birth safely and most importantly – survive.

Read Yasmin’s first post for The Sistem HERE


  1. This article highlights an urgent need for further exploration and research into the higher incidence of black maternal death rates than white maternal counterparts.
    The issue of racial bias within the medical profession described in this article needs to be urgently addressed to ensure that black and Bame women receive the appropriate care and treatment they are entitled to within a framework that provides an equality of safe care for woman who are pregnant and receiving medical care from the NHS.

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